Better Grappling with Strength Training: Build a Rock Solid Grappler’s Body

Grappling arts like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, known for its ground game and submissions, and Judo, focused on throws and takedowns, require tremendous physical strength and conditioning. Without proper strength training, grapplers can quickly gas out, get injured, or be simply overpowered by stronger opponents.

But with a targeted strength training program, average grapplers can transform into unstoppable submission machines. Developing a rock solid grappler’s physique provides many benefits:

  • Increased power for takedowns and throwing
  • Enhanced top control and ability to pin opponents
  • Greater strength for guard passes and submissions
  • Improved joint stability and injury prevention
  • Superior cardio to go hard for entire matches

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the key exercises and programming tactics to build game-changing, functional strength tailored to grappling performance. Let’s get started!

Strength Exercises for Grappling Goals

Certain strength training exercises offer the biggest payoff for developing a dominant grappler’s physique:

Power for Takedowns

Executing a killer takedown against a resistant, dynamic opponent requires tremendous explosiveness and whole-body power. Exercises like the deadlift, back squat, power clean and snatch build this athletic power through the entire kinetic chain. Include sets of 1-5 reps on these foundational lifts, focusing on speed and impeccable technique. This functional power directly transfers to hitting takedowns with tremendous force and authority.

Grapplers should perform multiple sets of 1-5 reps on deadlift and squat variations two or more times per week to ingrain the motor patterns and develop mass. Clean and snatch variations can be trained once or twice weekly to build explosive hip drive. Work up to heavy sets of 1-3 reps on power cleans and snatches to generate tremendous force against the ground and bars for dominant takedowns.

Maintaining Top Position

Once a grappler achieves a dominant position like side control, mount or north-south, they must have immense pressing power to keep opponents pinned and neutralized. Horizontal pressing exercises such as bench presses, push ups and dumbbell presses build the chest, shoulder and triceps strength needed to apply crushing pressure from the top position.

Overhead pressing exercises like standing barbell shoulder presses, seated dumbbell presses, and the Arnold press also build tremendous shoulder and triceps force for top pressure. Variations like push presses develop power from the legs up for heavy loads.

Grapplers should train the bench press and overhead presses for sets of 6-12 reps, 2-3 times per week for optimal strength and hypertrophy gains. Push ups, dumbbell presses and other variations can be used for higher reps to build muscle endurance. Building a thick, powerful chest, shoulders and triceps is crucial for pinning and controlling opponents from top positions.

Establishing Dominant Positions

To pass an opponent’s guard, achieve mount or side control, or transition between positions, grapplers need immense pulling power in the upper back, biceps, forearms and grip strength. Compound pulling exercises like weighted pull ups, bent over barbell rows, and various grip-intensive strongman implements such as heavy sled drags and farmer’s walks will enable grapplers to physically manhandle opponents into exposed, inferior positions for submissions.

Grapplers should train pull ups and rows for 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps, 2 or more times per week for back growth. Heavy farmer’s walks with high resistance for 20-60 seconds build tremendous grip and upper back strength for controlling opponents. Thick, muscular lats, traps, rear delts, rhomboids and forearms pay major dividends for achieving and maintaining dominant positions against resistant foes.

Executing Submissions

Beyond perfecting submission techniques through countless repetition, having the raw muscular strength and tendon resilience to finish submission holds against opponents defending with all their might is absolutely essential. Exercises that specifically strengthen the grip such as dead hangs, plate pinches, wrist curls and extensions directly improve a grappler’s chokehold, arm bar and wrist lock capability.

Dedicate an entire training session or two every week just to grip strengthening for higher submission rates. Neck strengthening exercises like bridges, neck curls and harness extensions protect vulnerable neck musculature while building immense strength through the shoulders and upper back.

Core Strength

Cultivating a strong, solid core through focused ab and low back training stabilizes grapplers during scrambles, prevents back exposures, enables efficient transfer of power to the limbs, and builds the spinal resilience to withstand brutal body blows and pressures. Core exercises like planks, ab wheel roll outs, hanging leg raises, and Russian twists gradually strengthen the rectus abdominis, obliques, erector spinae, and entire lumbopelvic hip complex for unbreakable grappling conditioning.

Train the core musculature 3-5 times per week with progressive overload on exercises, variation of movement planes, and attention to weak point training. Aim for 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps on main lifts like planks and crunches, then hit supplementary exercises for higher reps to build endurance. A fortified core can mean the difference between victory and injury on the mats.

Strong Hips and Legs

The powerful hips and legs serve as the central base of leverage and explosiveness for a grappler’s arsenal of stand up and ground techniques. Exercises like the squat, lunge, leg press, deadlift and their numerous variations train the quads, hamstrings, glutes, adductors and calves through large ranges of motion under substantial load. This builds the total lower body strength required for repeated explosive takedowns, quick sprawls to defend takedowns, and endless guard passing and recovery.

Additionally, supplementary hip abduction, adduction, flexion, and extension exercises with resistance bands and machines isolate all the surrounding hip muscles for well-rounded grappling conditioning. Even supplemental exercises like glute bridges, hip thrusts and monster walks bring incremental gains in hip strength and mobility.

Train the major squats, lunges and leg press lifts for 3-6 sets of 6-15 reps, 2-3x weekly. Vary rep ranges over time to spur continued adaptation. Build the leg and hip strength now to develop a dominant lower body grappling foundation.

Programming Strength Training for Grappling Goals

To maximize strength gains while avoiding overtraining injuries, grappling athletes must approach strength training programs with intelligent, personalized programming based on their individual recovery capacity and competitions. Here are some key programming guidelines:

  • Periodize strength work into coordinated mesocycles and microcycles to peak for grappling competitions while avoiding overreach. Strength prioritization phases can precede grappling skill and conditioning phases.
  • Modulate training volume, intensity and exercise selection over a long term plan spanning months to years. Vary rep ranges from low (1-5) for power to moderate (8-12) for muscle growth and high (15-20+) for local endurance.
  • Balance pressing and pulling exercises to prevent imbalance and overuse injuries. Similarly, balance unilateral single limb exercises like rear foot elevated split squats or one-arm rows with bilateral lifts like deadlifts and bench presses.
  • Avoid training the same muscle groups on consecutive days. Over 48 hours of rest between sessions for the same body parts allows full recuperation and recovery.
  • For most grapplers, a 4 or 5 day per week program with 2 upper body days, 2 lower body days and 1-2 days of strongman implements/grip work provides sufficient strength building volume with adequate recovery.
  • Consume a caloric surplus with 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight and adequate carbohydrate fueling to facilitate muscle growth and repair. Time nutrients appropriately around training sessions.

With an organized, evolving strength program personalized to the individual, any motivated grappler can build their optimal functional physique for domination on the mats. If optimal strength progress stalls, a deload of volume and intensity for one week can resensitize the body for further gains.

Nutrition and Recovery for Grappling Performance

Even the most scientifically designed strength training program will fall short of maximum effectiveness without properly supporting the body’s recovery needs through nutrition, sleep, stress management and smart training load management. Here are some key strategies for grappling athletes:

  • Consume a mild caloric surplus of around 10-15% above daily needs to fuel muscle growth and strength gains. Spread this over 4-6 meals with 25-35% protein sources, 50-60% carbohydrate sources and 15-20% healthy fats. Time nutrients pre and post training.
  • Aim for 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body mass (2.2 – 2.5 g/kg) daily from lean sources like chicken, fish, beef, eggs and whey supplements to maximize muscle protein synthesis for hypertrophy and strength.
  • Obtain the majority of dietary calories from complex carbohydrates like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, potatoes and beans to fuel training and provide micronutrients. Limit added sugars.
  • Incorporate heart healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and fatty fish to support hormone production, joint health and recovery. Avoid trans and hydrogenated oils.
  • Drink ample water before, during and after training to stay hydrated. Also consume electrolytes like sodium, potassium and magnesium.
  • Get at least 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night to allow muscles, connective tissues, hormones and all other bodily systems to fully regenerate. Nap if possible.
  • Proactively manage life stress through techniques like meditation, deep breathing, visualization, and positive self talk to reduce catabolic stress hormones.
  • Allow easy recovery days and avoid overtraining for continually optimized strength gains and athletic performance. Monitor body signals like low energy, fatigue, lack of motivation and lingering soreness to guide training.

With hard training, intelligent programming, proper nutrition and lifestyle optimization, any grappler can transform their physique and performance on the mats to dominance opponents with ease.


With the right combination of focused strength training, well-rounded conditioning, technical grappling practice and supportive nutrition, a grappler can sculpt their ideal physical frame to absolutely dominate opponents in competition.

A foundation of heavy compound pressing, pulling and leg exercises establishes the requisite baseline power, stability, muscular endurance and motor control. When intelligently integrated with skill acquisition and live grappling practice, rapid strength adaptations occur that pay dividends against resisting foes.

While genetics certainly influences outcomes, virtually any dedicated grappler can markedly improve their athleticism and physical dominance on the mats through focused training. The keys are consistency, intelligent progression, personalized programming and proper nutrition and lifestyle management.

Hopefully this comprehensive guide has illuminated the most effective strength exercises, training modalities and programming strategies for grappling excellence. Just imagine how empowering it will feel to effortlessly manhandle challengers, smash through defenses, and enact submissions against trained opponents with your newly forged strength foundation. Now get to the gym and start training! Oss!


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